Sunday, January 3, 2010

Thoughts on Blanketing

One of my favorite sayings about horse people is "ask two horse people a question and you will get three different answers." Everyone has their own ideas about the right and wrong ways to care for their equine friends. Many of us crazy horse people would agree on a lot of the major things but still disagree on the minor things, or vice versa.

A topic on which you can certainly get a lot of opinions would be blanketing. Some people think you should never blanket an unclipped horse, some people will crack out the heavyweights as soon as the temperatures dip below 60, and then there are the in-betweeners.

I guess I am an in-betweener. I like a natural lifestyle for horses, or maybe I should say somewhat natural since no domestic horse lives anything close to approaching a truly natural lifestyle. My own horses, even my fancy show horses, live outside. I don't ever stall them because it is supposed to be cold, wet, windy, etc. I do stall them sometimes for my convenience during the day to have them handy when I have time to ride. I guess where I digress from the 'natural' approach is I do blanket.

I will freely admit that some classic anthropomorphism is coming into play. It is going to be cold this week, and has been cold this weekend. Daytime temperatures hovering around or just below freezing and overnight lows in the teens. That is pretty freaking cold in my opinion. We get a week of this every winter at some point and I hate it. I will admit I would rather be on the verge of heatstroke than be cold. Today I happily sported the staypuff marshmallow look and wore two pairs of socks, insulated paddock boots, long underwear (top and bottom), jeans, turtleneck, polarfleece sweatshirt, coat, ear band, hat and gloves. I was still cold.

The problem is we never get adapted here to truly cold weather. Our average daytime high in the winter here is right at 50 degrees, of course some days are colder and some warmer. But that does not prepare you well for this week's weather. All of the horses have blankets on right now. This isn't the first time I've blanketed them this winter either. The rain sheets have also seen some use.

I know horses have winter coats and nature provided them with the ability to insulate and blah, blah, but my personal feeling is I would rather just put the blankets on and not worry wondering who is cold. Because some of them will be cold, there are a couple of residents (Tony comes to mind) that I sheet/blanket much more aggressively than most. There are also a few (Apollo, Homer, Lily and Sebastian come to mind) that might be naked when the others have sheets, or have on sheets when some have blankets, although everyone has a blanket this week. I also think it is important to keep some of the older, more arthritic residents warm to help keep them from getting stiff. At least twice a day someone is putting their hand underneath every blanket to see if anyone is too hot (or too cold), and so far everyone has been comfortable.

Now I am not one that really thinks it gets too cold (at least where I have lived) for the horses to be out. I should clarify that I am talking about UNCLIPPED horses in this entire post, clipped horsese are a whole 'nother thing. When Jason and I lived in Vermont my four horses lived outside 24/7. They had two run-ins to choose from that opened in two different directions, as well as a tree line for shelter. There were days where the high temperature did not go above zero, and we saw -20 for the standing temperature (no wind chill included) a few times for the lows. I don't even want to know what the wind chill factor was. The horses did fine, they mostly just parked themselves at their hay. (On the other hand I had pneumonia twice the first winter . . . ) I could look out my window and watch them and even in those conditions they did not use their shelters much. My blankets did get quite a work out though. I will come clean and say I stressed and worried about the horses living out in the Vermont winters endlessly. I would stand in our den and watch them out the windows wondering if they were miserable, how cold they were, generally just drove myself and Jason crazy. I admit I wouldn't choose to have my horses living outside in that kind of winter again, but they did survive it fine.

I also think that when it is in the 30's and raining that can be hard weather on a horse. You can make it easy weather on a horse by just putting a rainsheet on and keeping their core dry. I've seen more than one 'naked' horse shiver in this weather, and I've never seen a horse with a rainsheet on be cold in this weather. Keep the core dry and the horse is fine.

I guess I like to think of their rainsheets and blankets as their portable shelters. Instead of wondering and fretting if they will make use of man-made (or natural) shelter I prefer to just put their shelter on them and be done with it. This is certainly a topic that raises many opinions. Obviously many people would disagree with my philosophy. It seems to work well for the horses on this farm. You do have to treat each horse as an individual of course, when it comes to blanketing one rule does not fit all. Also, it is my personal opinion that you cannot blanket by a temperature chart. 40 degrees and bright sunshine is a lot different than 40 degrees with hard rain and wind.

It looks like we will all ring in the new year bundled up in our jammies, horses included! My horses will be off from work this week as the footing in my arena is frozen. I'm sure they wish it would stay that way all winter but unfortunately for them it is only for a week.


Tony; I know I should think this is cute, and I do after I know they really ARE just sleeping, but it makes my heart stop every time I see this.


Faune, Winston and Asterik


Clay, O'Reilly, Chili, and Slinky

Teddy, Lucky, Snappy and O'Reilly



Chili and Lightening




Homer, Dustin and Levendi

Chance and Elfin


Anonymous said...

I'm a blanket when it's needed sort of person. We have no shelters or windbreaks, so we do sheet and blanket, but some horses don't need them as much as others - Dawn and Noble are the two who are most sensitive to cold, with Joe close behind. I think Maisie is part yak and that applies to Lily as well - Norman can be more sensitive as his exterior surface to interior mass ratio is higher. There's nothing worse than a wet shivering horse - horses do get wet, and cold and wet is a bad combination. I like your approach of doing what's needed but no more.

ZionFarm said...

I always notice your parents house in the background of pictures. :) I think it is just gorgeous.

I am along the same lines as you as far as blanketing. We have not had to worry about it for the most part, but are getting hit with the same arctic air that you guys are getting. On nights this cold all of our horses stay in the barn with lots of hay and warm water (we don't have heaters in the troughs). We dont ever have to worry about Hanna the Fjord- she has the thickest coat I have ever seen! :)

Stay warm!

lytha said...

melissa, i just went thru some older posts and found your comment that your goats are more finicky than your horses.

and i read people often saying that goats will trim what your horses won't eat.

and then from my experience, our goat wouldn't eat a single blackberry bramble.

and these sheep on our field are exactly as finicky as the horses. even ignoring nettles and thistles, what should be healthy.


what is it?

what is the truth?

i mean, specifically, do goats/sheep help with weeds, or not?

or am i easily romanced by the sweet eyes of a lamb?

~lytha, new farm owner

FD said...

I always like to read about people who are thoughtful in their horse care.

Me, I do tend to agree that young, fit, healthy, unclipped, unworked, acclimated horses that have plenty to eat and lots of room to move around in an area with natural wind breaks, really don't need rugs.

However, change even one of those parameters, and it's a different story.

Particularly with horses that are groomed / and or ridden regularly, because that does strip the waterproofing from their coats and then they get wet to the skin and consequently chilled.

It drove me mad when I ran livery stables, because every now and then, there'd be a client that after I told them they needed to supply us with a rug / heavier rug because their horse was cold, would reply: "Oh that's ok, they're meant to shiver when it's cold, it'll warm him/her up. It's natural!"

Grrr. Mostly they quietly bought them the damn rug after I started charging them extra for the extra hard feed I was having to pump into their horse in order to maintain their bodyweight. Shivering is very calorie-expensive. Rugs are a much cheaper longterm investment than hard feed. Not to mention healthier, metabolically speaking.

The other thing that drives me nuts about hard-core 'natural' types is that horses retired to grass are generally older than wild horses ever get. The skin often produces less oil to waterproof their coat, they have less muscle tissue to generate heat, they move around less because they're stiffer and their digestive efficiency is often impaired too.

Jason said...

You're easily romanticized, Lytha !

Goats and sheep are indeed pickier eaters than any horse !

AliFromNY said...

I love you guys. I really can't imagine that any other retirement farm is this thoughtful and thorough. First the feed blog, then the worming blog, then the blanket blog! I definitely believe in blanketing, especially if its windy (and it's been plenty windy on Long Island). I can only imagine that horses get cold, and perhaps they don't understand that if they go in the shed they will be warmer. I can't imagine anything more heartbreaking than a shivering horse.

I left Sebastian unclipped and unblanketed one winter, but he grows a coat like its going out of style. And he was in the barn at night. Right now Henry is not clipped but has a pretty thin coat, so I go with 1-2 blankets at night depending on the temp.

The one thing that drives me completely nuts is over-blanketing. The people who have the sheet, middle blanket and stable blanket, none of which fit properly, leaving the horse bald on his shoulders. That to me would just be uncomfortable.

I say, Blanket away, Melissa!

Bif said...

I agree with many different parts of your philosophy. I "suffer" from some ideas that I'm not sure are right, and we have longer freezing temps, but my two cents:

I am from a colder climate, and I believe if you start blanketing (several days or a week, not just one night), you keep blanketing through the rest of the season. If you change the horse's natural defenses, they get dependent on the blanket pretty quickly. You explained how you bundle up for near freezing... us wacky people a little farther up north wouldn't put that much on unless we're just standing for hours and it's below zero.

A blanketed horse is equivalent IMO to our comfort on a pleasant day in the summer. It's not fair to put a horse into "summer" one day, and switch them back to winter or late fall like temps the next day when you don't blanket.

For me, if I start blanketing, I do it to moderate the horse to about 60 or 65 degrees, using heavy, medium, light or rain sheet as needed; so they may go without during the day if it's overcast at 60/65 or sunny and a just little cooler, but until the temperatures consistently stay up there, I blanket continuously if I start.

I SO agree with the mobile shelter idea, and that a rugged horse is happier on those crummy mid 30s to low 40s rainy days... but I don't want to blanket, and I don't groom down to the skin as much in winter if the horse doesn't work. I may do a really through curry, or brush well, but seldom do both on the same day, unless it's during a warm spell... A blanketed horse would get a good to the skin grooming with both pretty much every day.